This concealed yard next to the British Museum looks as if it’s been here for centuries, but in fact, Pied Bull Yard is barely 40 years old, or if you prefer, several hundred years old.

How can that be?

It all goes back to when the area was first developed from fields into streets and houses. The block was laid out as a rectangle of houses, and behind them was a large space, initially Stable Yard that later became known as Pied Bull Yard.

Greenwood map 1828

The top suggestion for the name is that it was named after the Pied Bull coaching inn in Museum Street, although there was also a Pied Bull tavern in Little Russell Street, which faced directly into the old yard entrance.

This filled in over the next 150(ish) years until all that was left was a space behind the northern row of houses, probably gardens, and a remnant of the old Stables Yard, known as Galen Place.

OS map 1895

The western side of the block of buildings was damaged during WW2, but were fairly quickly repaired.

The whole block was nearly torn down in the early 1970s to make space for the British Library, but a determined campaign by people living in the area managed to stop that happening, and in 1975 it was announced that the British Library would get a new building at St Pancras instead.

Not much changed until 1981 – and that’s when Pied Bull Yard was effectively created for a second time. Yes, this seemingly antique charming little courtyard space is barely 40 years old.

A planning application saw a lot of buildings demolished ore built behind facades — 5-17 Bloomsbury Square, 66-71 Great Russell Street, 10-22 Bury Place, 3-9 Galen Place and 24-28 Bloomsbury Way. The aim was to create a revamped Galen Place, and a new Pied Bull Yard, designed by the architects, Chapman Taylor.

What is today the main entrance from Bury Place was a single story pitched roof garage and a small building occupied by The Clover Press, both since rebuilt in a style matching the rest of the row.

Inside the yard, it’s obvious that the buildings are modern, even if many people may suspect that the yard is much older. The buildings surrounding the yard are in a classic style of the early 1980s, a sort of pastiche modern Georgian effect which I liken to early-Poundbury

The yard is notable for a couple of its occupants – namely the London Review Bookshop and the camera shop, The Classic Camera. Truckles and the next-door restaurant training centre fill the space with their tables.

The rather ornate looking clock on the outside of the main entrance is even younger than the yard, bring added in 1987.

Nearest railway stations

  1. Holborn
  2. Tottenham Court Road
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4 comments on “London’s Alleys: Pied Bull Yard, WC1
  1. Del says:

    Take a look at Ely Court that links Ely Place with Hatton Garden. In this alleyway you will find the smallest pub in London,Ye Olde Mitre. (tempory closed during lockdown)

  2. Alan Simpson says:

    Pied Bull Yard used to be home to a couple more photographic shops. York Cameras was next to the Bury Place entrance, and Jessops Classic Cameras was in the north-west corner. Both closed in the last dozen years or so.

  3. Mike Kay says:

    There is a picture on Collage (The London Picture Archive) of Bury Place from Bloomsbury Way taken 1971. From that perspective the new buildings seem to be completely hidden behind the old facades – but it’s not really possible to see properly. But fascinating. Thanks.

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